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By Cathy Gillen Thacker
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Cathy Gillen Thacker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWe have to stop meeting like this, Daisy Templeton thought.
Not that she and Jack Granger were really socializing. Just that, for the last month or so, the two of them had been showing up at the same locations in Charleston, South Carolina, at the same time with disturbing regularity. Sometimes, the handsome attorney said hello and engaged her in the kind of brief chitchat one had with an acquaintance. On other occasions - like tonight - the sexy bachelor kept his distance, remaining clear on the other side of the airport baggage claim.
Daisy knew Jack Granger hadn't been on her return flight from Switzerland in any case. The tall sandy-haired southerner with the nicely chiseled jaw would have been impossible to miss. But, as company counsel, he certainly could have been somewhere for DeverauxHeyward Shipping. He was dressed in a dark-blue pinstriped business suit, white shirt, tie. As always, his clothes were sharp, if a little worn.
He had been standing there, arms crossed, leaning up against the far wall, when Daisy walked through the security gate that separated arrivals and departures from the rest of the Charleston, South Carolina, airport. Dark aviator sunglasses on, a cell phone pressed to his ear, he appeared to be waiting for someone or something. But unlike everyone else - Daisy included - who was gathered around the motionless baggage claim, waiting impatiently for their luggage, Jack Granger didn't seem to care whether the ear-splitting warning buzzer ever sounded. He appeared more interested in whatever was being said to him on the other end of the line.
Not that it should matter to her what Jack Granger was doing, Daisy reminded herself as the red light flashed and the conveyer belt finally began to move. Others crowded in. She wedged her way in once she saw her case, grabbed it by the handle, lifted it off the conveyor belt, pulled up the handle, then wheeled it toward the automatic doors.
The August heat was intense, the South Carolina air was warm, moist and scented with saltwater. Grateful to be back home, even if she wasn't happy about what she had to do next, Daisy headed quickly for the longterm parking lot, and the car she had purchased six weeks ago after she had been disinherited. Her adopted parents hated the beat-up red sedan with the dented fender, yellowing hood and two pine-green doors, but for Daisy, the reconditioned, decade-old vehicle was a crowning symbol of her achievement. She had paid for the car in cash, using money she had earned as a professional photographer. And it had facilitated her during her search for the truth about her heritage. Now that she was back in the States again, she was going to take herself to confront her biological mother and father.
Eight o'clock, the traffic was light as she headed for the downtown Historic District of elegant homes, to the Hayes residence, where Daisy's older sister, Iris, resided. The stately lemon-colored three-story home, with the black shutters, double wraparound verandas and mansard roof, was one of the larger homes on Concord Street, opposite Waterfront Park.
Her heart pounding with a mixture of anger and anticipation of the blowup to come, Daisy slammed out of her car, the red accordion file filled with proof in one hand, her fringed buckskin carryall slung over her shoulder, and marched up the steps. Iris's maid, Consuela, answered the door, and ushered Daisy to the antique-filled morning room, where her much older "sister" was seated.
Iris had on a sleeveless pale-blue summer sweater and slim white skirt, high-heeled shoes that made the most of her slender, elegant, forty-seven-year-old form. A cardigan had been tied neatly across her shoulders. A strand of pearls and matching earrings were the only accessories aside from the heavy diamond wedding and engagement rings Iris still wore, a year after she had been widowed by one of the city's wealthiest - and in Daisy's opinion, most repulsive - men. Copies of Vogue and Town and Country magazine were spread across her lap. Mozart was playing on the stereo.
Iris took one look at the expression on Daisy's face and dismissed her maid with a silken-voiced "That will be all, Consuela. And please, shut the doors behind you."
Consuela nodded and disappeared as silently as she had come in.
Daisy's heartbeat kicked up another notch as she regarded the woman who had secretly given birth to her, and then, just as heartlessly, abandoned her child. "Hello, Mother."
For the first time, Iris's poise faltered. She put aside her magazines. "Daisy. I didn't know you were back."
You mean you were praying I would never come back. "Just got in."
Iris wet her lips nervously, swallowed hard enough for Daisy to see it. "I don't know what you found out over there -"
Aware her legs were beginning to tremble with a combination of exhaustion and nerves, Daisy eased into a tapered-back Hepplewhite chair, circa 1790. Unable to help herself - hadn't she promised herself on the plane she would give Iris a chance to explain, before she tore into her? - Daisy countered ever so quietly, "How about the truth?" How about the end of all my childish dreams? She was only twenty-three, but she felt so much older, now that she knew about all the lies.
"But it's not anything like what it must seem," Iris continued.
"Really," Daisy replied. She studied the mixture of guilt and regret on the older woman's face, and knew that her long-held hope of finding out to whom she really belonged was not going to bring her the peace of mind, the love and acceptance she had sought. "Then suppose you explain all the documents I have in this file." Daisy patted the pleated red folder clenched between her fingers on her right hand. "The birth records that say I was born in Switzerland to American citizen Iris Templeton, and not to two tragically killed parents in Norway - as I was always told. Or the travel visa to Norway and then the United States with my name on it, issued to Charlotte and Richard, by the U.S. embassy. Or the story of the scandalous predicament that got you in trouble and landed you in the convent, recounted to me by the long-retired and still very remorseful Sister Agatha." Suppose you tell me about all the lies. About your affair with a very married man.
Silence fell as the color drained from Iris's beautiful face. Tears glimmered in her eyes as Iris pressed a hand to her pearls and spoke with difficulty. "I was very young when it happened."
Not that young. "You were twenty-three - the same age I am now, college-educated and wealthy to boot. I think you could have handled having me if you had wanted to," Daisy concluded resentfully.
New color dotted Iris's flawless cheeks. Iris looked Daisy square in the eye. "It wasn't that simple, Daisy."
"Right," Daisy agreed bitterly, tears sparkling in her own eyes, too. She wondered why she had ever hoped, even for one overly idealistic second, that the always contained Iris would tell Daisy what was in her heart, then or now. "You had a fortune to amass, a gross old man to marry."
Pique simmered in Iris's pale-green eyes. "I tried to do right by you."
Excerpted from The Heiress by Cathy Gillen Thacker Copyright © 2003 by Cathy Gillen Thacker
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.