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Her Perfect Match
By Kate Welsh
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Then who am I?" Jackson Alton's broken whisper was nearly inaudible against the backdrop of the Colorado blizzard raging outside the cabin windows.
Such a simple question, he thought. Any thirty-two-year-old man should know the answer. Minutes ago he'd thought he did. But that was before.
Jackson stared at the adoption papers in his hand, a hard knot having formed in his chest. A split second's decision - whether to sort through a box of papers or put them in the musty ranch house attic untouched - had not only changed his perception of the life he'd led so far and had planned to lead in the future. It had altered something more essential. It had shifted his vision of who he was.
He sat alone on the floor of his mother's studio - the shrine his father has kept to his late wife for twenty-eight years. He stopped his thoughts right there and demanded of himself what no one had the guts to say before. Not his mother. Not his father.
Jackson looked around the small cabin he'd planned to move into any day now. He'd decided he needed a little personal space, and Evan Alton had finally reconciled himself to the idea that it was time to clear out his wife's studio. Now Jackson felt he no longer belonged there. But then where did he belong?
He hadn't a clue.
And the really scary thing was Jackson might never have known the truth if he hadn't volunteered to clear out the cabin. He'd been afraid Evan might slide into a depression if he had to go through his wife's things.
He clenched his fist, wrinkling the papers in his hand. In a moment of clarity, he realized that the depth of his anger at this revelation he'd stumbled across was really mostly caused by his father's ongoing deep preoccupation with the loss of his wife - even to the detriment of his children.
Though Evan had been a positive presence in their lives, Jackson had always instinctively known that something a parent should have given hadn't been given to him. And he'd missed it.
With the March blizzard howling outside, Jackson once again stared at the piece of paper he'd unconsciously wadded into a ball. He turned it over and over examining twists and turns of something that, like his life, had been smooth and neat only moments before. He shook his head and smoothed out the crumpled ball before leafing through the rest of the documents and notes in the box on his lap.
The papers with the official adoption decree answered several of his questions. His father's name was Lieutenant Wade Jackson, which must be why his name was Jackson Wade. His mother was a Broadway actress named Margaret Taggert - she used Meg as a stage name. There was a Broadway playbill from Hello, Dolly! in the late sixties. Her name was circled. She'd been in the chorus. There was a sort of family tree on the Taggerts in a handwriting completely foreign to him. He found himself hoping it was his mother's hand - that she'd cared enough to personally record the information so she'd be sure he had it.
The Taggert family - his family - lived in Pennsylvania on a horse farm called Laurel Glen. How weird was that? Maybe not very, he realized. Meg Taggert might have sought out a life for her son parallel to the one she'd had growing up. After all, the Circle A was a ranch with horses, though they raised cattle as their main livelihood. His horse breeding program was his sideline.
There was nothing about his father other than his name, however. He sorted through the rest of box, hoping to find something to tie him to the mysterious Wade Jackson other than being named after him. At the bottom of the box he found a tiny manila envelope. He opened the flap and turned it over in his palm. A sparkling diamond ring fell into his hand.
"I guess they were engaged and something went wrong," he muttered, examining the initials inscribed on the inside.
Wade Jackson had been listed with a title. Lieutenant. The Vietnam War had still been going on about then. He might have been killed, but wouldn't that have given Meg Taggert more of a reason to keep Wade Jackson's child? Logic told him his father must have been killed, because if Meg Taggert's relationship with Jackson had ended bitterly, she wouldn't have requested his child be named after him and she wouldn't have left the ring for that child.
Something suddenly occurred to him that wasn't completely unrelated. He wondered if his sister, Crystal, was adopted, too. He glanced at the picture of Martha Alton and her mother - the grandmother who'd raised him. No way was Crystal adopted. She was the spitting image of the woman who had been his mother for four years. Crystal had the same Native American cheekbones and onyx eyes that stared at him from the thirty-year-old picture. He, on the other hand, looked nothing like anyone else in the family. Apparently he'd just found out why. It had never bothered him before - that different face from all the rest. It did now, and he hated that it did.
"Why would he not tell me? Why the secrecy?" Jackson asked the silent room. It didn't escape his notice that whenever he had deep personal questions, he usually talked to God, but this time he found himself unable or unwilling to turn to Him. Instead, Jackson talked to an empty room.
Feeling every bit as empty, Jackson stood and gathered all the papers, unsuccessfully fighting anger. He didn't need God to answer his questions. Evan Alton had the answers and had kept them to himself for thirty-two years. And Jackson wanted those answers. Now!
Excerpted from Her Perfect Match by Kate Welsh Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.