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By Tori Carrington
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEVERY TIME IT RAINED Leah Dubois Burger thought of J. T. West. The way he'd dragged his strong fingers down the flesh of her back, tracing a path to her bottom. He'd branded her, claimed her, all the while vividly reminding her what it meant to be a woman.
Unfortunately, it rained a lot in Toledo, Ohio, in April. And J.T. hadn't been in the city for nearly a year and a half.
And J. T. West was responsible for the biggest mistake of her life.
Leah leaned against the steering wheel of her late model Lexus and stared at the rain pelting the windshield. She'd shut off the car engine so all she heard were the rhythmic drops hitting the hood of the car. Across the parking lot she could make out the blue neon lights of the Kroger store. It was only 7:00 p.m. but the heavy dark clouds had ushered in dusk early making it feel like winter was holding on by its fingernails. A loaf of bread was all she had to buy. She needed it to make Sami lunch in the morning. She pictured her eleven-year-old daughter waiting at their house in Ottawa Hills, finishing the dinner dishes and talking to her father on the phone like she did every night at about this time. Asking when he was going to move back into the house.
Leah waited for an emotion, any emotion, to hit her. She'd been married to the man for eleven years and for the past three months they'd been going through post-marriage therapy to try to patch up their marriage. But her ex-husband failed to bruise the outer edges of her thoughts.
The bottom of her stomach dropped out and her heart began pounding harder than the rain against the asphalt. Such a profound reaction, despite that nearly sixteen months had passed since she'd last seen the man. Despite that he had tempted her into an affair that had ended her marriage and plunged her daughter into a preadolescent funk. Yet how could she forget that he'd made her feel alive again for the first time in ... well, a very long time. In truth, she hadn't felt so vital, so free, since that one long-ago August when she was sixteen, he barely eighteen, and the summer had seemed to stretch on forever, making it seem like what they had might never end.
But it had ended.
Only to begin again fourteen years later. After she'd married another man. After she'd started a family. After she'd believed she'd long since grown out of her crush on J. T. West.
A passing car's headlights cut a swath through the soggy night, making Leah blink. She reached for the umbrella on the passenger seat, then hesitated, deciding a little cold rain might be just the thing she needed to wash away wayward memories of the few steamy weeks she'd spent loving a man who had twice disappeared from her life as abruptly as he'd appeared.
She walked toward the supermarket even as her brain told her she should run. Within moments her beige blouse was plastered against her skin and her tan slacks were soaked and wet. But she couldn't bring herself to care beyond pushing her thick, blond hair from her face. An uncharacteristic reaction for someone who spent a great deal of time perfecting her conservative yet stylish appearance. First it had been because she was a judge's daughter, then because she was a prominent attorney's wife. But mostly she enjoyed taking care of her appearance because she liked to look good, liked to feel feminine. Which was also why she allowed herself one self-indulgence - the supersexy lingerie she always wore. She caught a glimpse of herself in the automatic glass doors the moment before they opened.
She barely recognized the bedraggled woman staring back at her. The limp, wet hair. The vacant expression. The untidy clothes. She guessed that she should feel something at the sight, but didn't.
She pushed herself forward, blinking at the bright lights. It seemed odd that everyone was going on with life as usual. She didn't know what else she expected. Maybe that they would all pause and look at her as if they knew what she'd been thinking. Or rather whom she'd been thinking about. Whisper comments on her dreadful appearance. Instead the cashiers scanned groceries, the patrons perused the impulse-buy magazines on display at the checkout counter, and the bag boys slid merchandise into white plastic bags, none of them giving her any notice.
All in all, life went on as usual.
Why, then, didn't it feel that way for her?
She absently picked up a shopping basket and cut through an empty line, her steps slow, her mind sluggish. All day she'd been distracted and disoriented. She'd forgotten to wash Sami's basketball jersey and her daughter hadn't been happy about it, Febreze-doused and sporting a spot above the "U" in Burger no matter how hard Leah had tried to rub it out. She'd sat through lunch with her sister, Rachel, barely tasting the food and hardly registering her sister's presence beyond how happy she looked now that she and Gabe Wellington had set a date for their wedding. Her father had called while she'd been making meatloaf for dinner and she'd forgotten to add eggs so it had come out dry and cracked. She wasn't sure how she felt that Sami hadn't seemed to notice beyond commenting on how much better her Grandma Burger's meatloaf was, then reaching for the ketchup bottle.
When had life become so ... routine? So dull?
Excerpted from Forbidden by Tori Carrington Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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