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Steering her small rental car around yet another of the narrow road's hairpin curves, she finally saw a straight stretch ahead and pressed down on the accelerator. The car leaped forward, seemingly as eager as she was to get to her destination.
She'd come so far. And not just in distance, although the miles between suburban Philadelphia and rural England were considerable. But those miles dwindled to nothing when compared to the mental journey she'd made in the past two weeks.
Starting from a point of shocked disbelief at the incredible news the fertility clinic's lawyer had so reluctantly given her, Vicky had worked her way through furious anger that anyone, particularly a trusted doctor, could have done such a despicable thing, to euphoric joy at the unintended results of his act. She'd finally ended up deeply mired in intense frustration as she'd waited for the lawyers to negotiate the ground rules for a situation that appeared to have no legal precedent.
And now, after two interminable weeks, she was about to realize her heart's desire. She was finally going to meet them.
Her slender fingers tightened nervously on the steering wheel as she remembered she was also going to meet someone else. Someone who not only didn't want to meet her, but who had expressly forbidden her to come. Someone who had only grudgingly agreed to meet with her lawyer, Ms. Lascoe, after Vicky had threatened him with a lawsuit.
Vicky shivered at the thought of how he was going to react when he found out that, at the last minute, Vicky had decided to come herself instead of sending Ms. Lascoe as they'd agreed.
It didn't matter, she told herself. James Edward Andrew William Thayer wasn't going to get his own way this time - something she suspected hadn't happened to him very often in his privileged life.
Vicky's breath caught in her throat as she rounded the next curve and saw the twelve-foot-high sandstone pillars that marked the entrance to her destination, Thayer House.
Slowing almost to a stop, she carefully turned the car onto the neatly graveled driveway.
In the distance she could see a sprawling, three-story mansion sitting atop a slight rise. It radiated a sense of age and power that she unexpectedly found intimidating.
By the time Vicky actually reached Thayer House, her heart was thumping so hard she felt light-headed. All she could think about were her children. Behind that elegant facade were the children she'd yearned for all her life. Children she'd given up all hope of ever having. Until two weeks ago, when her prayers for motherhood had been so improbably answered.
Abandoning the car in the driveway, Vicky hurried toward the house. She stumbled slightly on the first of the three broad, shallow steps in her haste to reach the gleaming black door.
Grabbing the shiny brass knocker, Vicky gave it a sharp rap and, when the door wasn't immediately answered, administered a second thump. An interminable minute later, the door swung open on well-oiled hinges to reveal a slightly overweight, middle-aged man in a black suit.
"Good afternoon, madam," he said. "May I help you?"
"Ye -" Vicky's voice, stretched thin by her nerves, snapped on the word. Taking a deep breath, she tried again. "Yes, I'm here to see Mr. Thayer. I'm Ms. Lascoe."
"Certainly, he is expecting you, Ms. Lascoe. Welcome to Thayer House."
The man opened the door wider, and Vicky stepped inside, surreptitiously searching the vast entrance hall for her children, even though she knew it was highly unlikely that six-month-old twins would be passing their time there.
"I am Beech, the butler," the man said.
He sounded like a character straight out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel, Vicky thought, swallowing the nervous giggle that bubbled up in her throat.
"You may wait for Mr. Thayer in the green drawing room. He asked to be paged as soon as you arrived."
Paged? Vicky examined the word. Somehow the modern reference seemed out of place in this old house. Although she could definitely see the advantages of a pager in a place this big.
"This way, Ms. Lascoe." Beech started toward the back of the hall.
Vicky followed him on trembling legs, desperately trying to conceal her escalating nervousness. All that stood between her and her children now was James Thayer. Her lips firmed in grim determination. He didn't stand a chance. She'd deal with the devil himself for her children's sake. What was one overprivileged Englishman?
Beech pushed open the door to a large room filled with an eclectic collection of museum-quality Chippendale furniture and comfortably faded chintz. He gestured her inside.
"If you'll have a seat, Mr. Thayer will be with you shortly."
"Thank you." Vicky's voice came out on a squeak of suppressed emotion.
Fortunately, Beech didn't seem to notice. He merely gave her a majestic nod and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Too nervous to sit still, Vicky walked over to the French doors that opened onto a flagstoned terrace and peered out at the lush green perfection of the meticulously tended lawn stretching in all directions. To her right was an elaborate rose garden, and in the distance she could see a long glass greenhouse with an onionlike dome perched on one end.
As Vicky watched, a man emerged from the greenhouse and started across the grass toward the house.
She tensed as she took in the proud tilt of his head and the casual elegance of his clothes. He had to be the owner of all this magnificence.
Intensely curious about this unknown man who had fathered her children, Vicky moved closer to the French doors in order to get a better look at him.
And he was definitely worth a second look, she conceded. He moved with the coordinated grace of a seasoned athlete, and he looked ...
Vicky frowned as an unexpected and totally unwelcome prickle of awareness danced over her skin.
His hair was a dark brown that seemed to trap the brilliant June sunlight, giving it a reddish gleam. She couldn't quite make out the color of his eyes because of the distance, but they appeared dark. Dark and impenetrable. As if they were full of secrets he wouldn't easily give up.
Vicky's gaze slipped lower, studying the unyielding line of his tightly compressed lips.
He looked annoyed about something. Probably her arrival, she admitted. He certainly hadn't wanted her here. He hadn't wanted her anywhere near the twins. But she didn't care what he wanted.
She wasn't going to be talked into disappearing from her children's life. Not now. Not ever. The twins were the only children she would probably ever have, and she was determined to be part of their life. An important part.
Vicky took a deep breath, trying to control her nervousness. She was not relishing the coming interview. Not only did she hate personal confrontations, but James Thayer's bearing exuded a strength of purpose that she found very daunting. She'd come herself instead of sending Ms. Lascoe, and he was not going to take the news well.
Excerpted from Her Secret Children by Judith McWilliams 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.