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Heir to Secret Memories
By Mallory Kane
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Mallory Kane
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSummer, seven years ago
Paige Reynolds woke up the way she had since the day her mother died, scared, lonely, praying it was all a dream and her mom was in their tiny kitchen, making coffee. But a deep breath yielded no delicious aroma of coffee, just an ache of grief in her heart.
Then through the haze of sleep she heard the comforting scratch of pencil against paper.
She was safe and warm and loved. Johnny was here and he was doing what he did so often. Drawing her while she slept.
She opened her eyes to meet his sapphire-blue gaze.
"Morning, Tiger," he said softly.
He had on faded jeans and no shirt. His brown hair was tousled and that cowlick stuck up in the back.
Her heart filled to bursting with love. She'd never been as happy in the entire seventeen years of her life as during these past six weeks.
"You're up early." She didn't want to get up yet.
They'd spent most of the night making love.
Johnny had been quiet, more intense than usual. He'd held her and loved her and pressed kisses along every inch of her as if she were some precious icon and he were an obsessed worshiper. He'd acted as though he were memorizing her, body and soul, so he'd never forget her.
His fierce passion had been a little scary. But he'd whispered "I love you" a thousand times, and finally, as dawn reddened the sky, she'd fallen asleep feeling safe and sheltered in his warm, strong arms.
Just thinking about the night made her body thrill. She sat up in bed, letting the sheet fall behind her. Looking over her shoulder at him, she smiled. "You sure you're ready to get up?"
He made a low, growling sound in his throat, threw the sketchpad aside and dove into bed with her.
Afterward, she lay in the crook of his arm while his fingers brushed lightly through her hair.
"Have you thought about what you're going to do?"
Her hazy glow faded a bit. "What do you mean?"
He kissed her cheek. "It's been over three months since your mother died. What are you planning? Can you afford to go back to school in September?"
His question sent her heart hammering against her chest. Claws of panic began to tear at her insides, just like they had each week since her mother had succumbed to ovarian cancer as she counted her waitressing tips, praying there was enough money to pay the rent one more time. She sat up, pulling the sheet protectively against her.
"I thought we ..." she started, but as soon as she said the words, as soon as she brought her gaze up to meet his, she knew.
"You're leaving." Her voice cracked on the last word.
"Paige, no. Wait." Johnny sat up too, and grabbed her arms. "Listen to me."
But she was already withdrawing into her protective shell. It had always just been her and her mother. Then when her mother died, her whole focus had been on survival.
But that was before Johnny had seen her in Jackson Square and asked if he could sketch her. Before he'd brought love and sunshine back into her life.
She'd believed Johnny's words of love, just like her mother had believed her father. But when her mother had gotten pregnant, her father had revealed that he already had a wife and family. He had abandoned her mother when she needed him most. And now Johnny was leaving her.
Her breath caught in a sob.
"Paige!" He shook her, gently but firmly. "I love you. Weren't you listening last night? I love you. Wait a minute." He jumped up, his naked body pale and beautifully lit by the sunlight shining through the apartment windows. He got something from his backpack and came back to the bed.
"Give me your left hand."
Hesitantly, Paige held out her hand, which shook. Don't leave me, her heart screamed. I love you.
She watched his face as he took her hand in his.
"God, you're shaking," he whispered. "I didn't mean to scare you. I did it all wrong."
She felt something cool slip onto her finger.
Johnny pulled her hand to his chest and placed his hand over it. She felt his heart beating fast, felt the warm familiar comfort of his hand over hers. "This was my mother's ring. Father had it made especially for her. She wore it till the day she died. I want you to wear it."
He looked at her solemnly. "I love you. I will love you forever. Will you marry me?"
A sharp pain pierced her breast. "M-marry?"
He nodded, and a lock of hair fell over his forehead. "I have to go back to school too, now that summer's over. Come with me to Boston. We can live together. Be married. You could go to school up there."
Johnny laughed and kissed her. "M-m-m-married. Now stop stuttering and say yes."
Paige's eyes burned with tears. When her mother had died, she'd been left to face a world she wasn't prepared for. In the weeks that followed, she had learned the meaning of the word alone.
"Oh, Johnny. I thought you were leaving me."
A shadow crossed Johnny's face. "I'm never going to leave you. I love you. I just have to take care of one thing. My father's not going to be very happy about this." His mouth twisted. "He's never happy about anything I do these days."
He jumped up and pulled on his jeans. "So I just need to run home and talk to him. I want him to meet you. He'll love you once he meets you."
Paige felt as if she were on a merry-go-round that had gone out of control. Her head was spinning. She put her hand over her fluttering heart.
He wanted to marry her. Marry! She was seventeen and all alone in the world. He was probably twenty and.... She suddenly realized she didn't know much about him, except that he wanted to be an artist, but his father disapproved.
But he loved her. He wanted to marry her.
"How long have you been thinking about this?" she asked, grabbing one of his white monogrammed shirts and pulling it on, pushing the long sleeves back so she could fasten the buttons.
Johnny was gathering up stuff and throwing it in his backpack. He shrugged. "From the first time I saw you in Jackson Square. You were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I knew I had to draw that classic face."
He turned and threw his arms wide. "Then you smiled and stole my heart."
She giggled. "I didn't know you were in school. Where'd you say?"
Johnny shot her a sharp glance. "Harvard."
Paige flopped down on the bed. Harvard? They'd been together six weeks and she'd never known he went to Harvard. A tiny hummingbird of fear began to flutter in her breast. "Harvard? Are you rich or something?"
He shook his head as he slid his sketchpad into a pocket of his backpack. "Something," he muttered.
He was avoiding her eyes. She wanted to stop him, make him look at her. She wanted him to promise her everything was going to be perfect. That he would love her forever and never leave her.
Excerpted from Heir to Secret Memories by Mallory Kane Copyright © 2003 by Mallory Kane
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.