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A Family For Christmas
By Irene Brand Dana Corbit
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBlue eyes alight with happiness and warmth, Wendy Kenworth eagerly approached the bench where her boyfriend, Evan Kessler, sat. He laid his textbook aside, rising to his feet as his mouth curved into a soft smile of approval. Florida's noontime sun illuminated Wendy's raven-dark hair, sparking a series of iridescent rays. Her head resembled a rainbow appearing suddenly from behind a dark cloud.
An involuntary gasp escaped Evan's lips, and he strode to meet her with a joyful heart. Finally he knew the answer to a question he'd been struggling with since he'd met Wendy three months ago. He loved her, and if the eager, trusting look in her wide azure-blue eyes was any indication, she loved him, too.
Wendy ran into his outstretched arms, and he hugged her tightly. She buried her head against Evan's brawny chest, and he whispered into her fragrant hair, "I love you, Wendy. I want to marry you."
Wendy's heart raced as if she'd just finished a marathon. Her feet seemed to be planted on a cloud. Evan wanted to marry her! Having lived in a dysfunctional family most of her life, Wendy couldn't believe that happiness beckoned at last.
Evan held her at arm's length and thought he'd never seen a prettier sight. Wendy's full-lipped mouthcurved in a lovely smile. Luminous eyes, enhanced by thick black lashes under delicately arched brows, were the focal point of her oval face. He kissed her dainty nose.
"Will you be my wife?"
"Of course, Evan. This is so sudden." She laughed as she used the timeworn cliche'. "You don't mean right away?"
"No, probably not until I've finished the research and written my doctorate thesis. But in the meantime, we can pay a visit to the jewelry store to check out engagement rings. You can visit me in Ohio during our Christmas break, meet my folks and we can announce our engagement to the assembled Kessler clan."
With his arm around Wendy's waist, Evan steered her toward his truck in one of the parking lots of the University of Florida. The surprise was over now, and at his words, Wendy's joy dwindled quickly.
"I don't know if that's a good idea," Wendy said slowly. "Maybe we'd better wait until I tell my mother about us."
As their relationship had blossomed, Evan had been surprised that Wendy was reluctant to let him meet her mother. He'd told his family about Wendy as soon as they'd started dating. He'd felt, right from the start, that Wendy was special.
"Let's look at rings, anyway, so I'll know what you like."
Evan opened the door of his pickup truck and boosted Wendy into the passenger seat. He started the engine and turned on the air conditioner, still amazed at the difference in weather between Florida and his native state, Ohio. Imagine using an air conditioner in November!
Before he fastened his seat belt, Evan leaned toward Wendy and pressed a soft kiss on her lips. As she responded shyly, a quick - and disturbing - thought pierced Evan's happiness. He pulled away from Wendy and put the truck in motion.
Evan had suddenly remembered why he'd hesitated to tell Wendy that he loved her. Christianity was the focal point of the Kessler family, but Wendy and her mother never attended church. He wanted a wife who shared his spiritual beliefs. Was he happy or sorry that Wendy's radiant appearance this morning had shocked the words right out of his mouth? With an inward sigh, he realized that he was committed now. Only time would tell if he'd made a mistake.
His abrupt mood swing disturbed Wendy. Evan was always so sure of himself. Now he seemed confused and uncertain.
"What's wrong, Evan?"
"We're going to choose an engagement ring. That's a pretty big step, and naturally, I'm a little shaken."
His teasing, casual tone didn't reassure Wendy. She glanced at Evan's profile, surprised to see a muscle twitching in his right jaw, as if he were upset about something.
"It could be too big a step for us to take without thinking about it," she said reluctantly. "Perhaps you should come home with me this weekend to meet my mother before we make a decision."
"I've already decided. I love you. I want to marry you," he said positively, trying to reassure himself as well as Wendy. "But I would like to meet your mother."
He turned into the parking lot of the mall where the jewelry store was located. "We may have problems to overcome," he said, "but all engaged couples face those."
"Especially the Kenworths," she said bitterly. Evan looked at her sharply. Should he have learned more about Wendy's family before giving her his heart?
In the jewelry store, the salesperson seated Wendy and Evan in front of a large display case of diamonds. Wendy's hands grew moist, and she clasped them together.
When the woman went to the vault to bring out additional trays of diamond rings, Wendy whispered, "Evan, we haven't been engaged an hour. Don't you think it's too soon to buy a ring?"
He lifted her hand and kissed her fingers. "We don't have to buy anything today."
The next half hour passed in a daze for Wendy. The saleswoman persuaded her to slip numerous rings on her finger. Her sales pitch about the quality and size of the diamonds confused Wendy. She spoke of various diamond cuts and the shapes of diamonds - round, marquise, oval, pear, princess - on and on, until Wendy's mind whirled and dipped like a carnival ride.
She barely stifled a gasp when she saw the prices of the rings. The only jewelry Wendy owned was the department store variety. She had no idea that an engagement ring could cost thousands of dollars. And the ring she liked best was a "past, present, future" ring with a large diamond in the center and two smaller stones on each side. The ring cost over four thousand dollars, and she wouldn't choose anything that expensive.
Excerpted from A Family For Christmas by Irene Brand Dana Corbit Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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