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He's All That
By Debbi Rawlins
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"ISABELLE, bring me my social calendar along with another pot of tea."
Victoria Whitford sighed at the boorish way her mother spoke to their longtime housekeeper. The woman was practically part of the family, for God's sake. She'd been ready with a Band-Aid the first time Tori had scraped her knee.
"Thank you," Tori added for her mother, not that Marian Whitford noticed the subtle criticism.
Isabelle smiled. "Would you like some vanilla wafers with your tea, Tori?"
"My God, don't call her that horrid name. It's Victoria."
"Sorry, Mrs. Whitford." Isabelle scurried out of the sitting room, her sensible black shoes treading lightly over the polished wood floors.
"I like Tori, Mother."
"That is not the name your father and I gave you."
"Nevertheless, I suggest you get used to it."
Her mother glared in disbelief. Her sister Mallory laughed.
Marian turned on her older daughter. "What do you find so amusing?"
She looked away and brought the martini glass to her lips.
"Don't look away while I'm speaking to you."
Tori waited for her sister to make a snide remark. But the only sign of her old defiance was a slight lift of her chin as she turned her attention back to their mother.
"Put that glass down. What have I told youabout drinking so early in the day?"
With a sinking heart, Tori watched Mallory obey. Not that she approved of her sister's drinking, something that she'd done quite a bit since Tori had gotten home three days ago, but she hated to see her spirited sister look so broken.
Having been away for seven years had really shed a different light on the home front. Even though Tori had spent half her life at boarding school, when she'd returned home for holidays and summers she'd never noticed her mother's domineering attitude. Of course Tori had always been the obedient daughter and seldom her mother's target.
"Is that couch new?" she asked, wanting to change the subject, yet seriously interested in the answer.
Her mother reared her head back, her carefully made-up blue eyes widening. "That piece belonged to your great-grandmother. It's been in the family for generations."
"Oh." It was ugly. Burgundy velvet, trimmed with gold, obviously an antique, probably valuable. Tori hated it. "Is it comfortable?"
"For God's sake, you don't sit on it."
Tori froze just as she swiveled, ready to plant her fanny on the diminutive settee. "Silly me," she murmured, and Mallory hid a smile.
Isabelle appeared with a tray and as she poured the tea, Tori wandered over to the window overlooking the south garden, breathtaking as always with tiers of award-winning lavender and pink roses and crawling jasmine.
The Whitford mansion was beautiful, having been featured in Arch Digest twice, but Tori had always liked the gardens the best. They soothed her, helped her feel connected to the world. She missed them while she'd been away, sadly, more than she'd missed her family.
Of course it wasn't the flowers that had initially caught her interest. Jake Conners had done that. The gardener's son had the body of a god and when he'd take his shirt off, even her prepubescent heart would flutter like crazy. She wondered whatever happened to him. He was at least five years older. Probably married with two kids, living halfway across the country by now.
She turned to her mother. Fifty-eight years old and not a crease on her face, not a strand of gray glistening from her perfect blond bob.
"You're not to make any plans this week without checking with me first," she said opening her leather-bound appointment book. "We have a very full schedule."
Out of the corner of her eye, movement in the garden caught Tori's attention. She moved her head for a better look and squinted at the figure holding the shovel.
Her breath caught.
It couldn't be ...
"Victoria, are you listening to me?"
"Yes, Mother, I heard every word." She changed windows for a better angle, and stared in giddy disbelief.
"For heaven's sake, Victoria." Her mother came up behind her, moved the heavy cream-colored drape aside and followed Tori's gaze with disdain.
"Don't even think about dallying with the Conners boy."
"My God, it really is Jake?"
Mallory joined them at the window. "Yummy, isn't he? I haven't seen him for ages."
"You two disgust me." She let go of the drape.
"Step away from there before he sees you ogling him like a couple of schoolgirls." She returned to the sofa and her appointment book as if the matter were settled. "This Saturday we have dinner with the Radcliffs. You do remember their son, Bradley, don't you, Victoria?"
"How could I forget? The first time we met he tried to impress me by reciting the entire Gettysburg Address." Tori shuddered. "And that was as interesting as he got."
"That may be so but he's executive vice president of Radcliff Enterprises now. Rumor has it he'll take over when his father retires in two years. You could do much worse, Victoria."
She gave her mother a mischievous smile. "You're listening to the rumor mill these days?"
She looked up from her appointment book. "I had lunch with Claire Radcliff." Annoyance flashed in her eyes. "I don't much care for your attitude since you've been home, young lady. Even your father commented after dinner last night."
Yeah, right. Like he'd notice anything that didn't concern Whitford Industries' bottom line. Which was fine with Tori. At least he didn't interfere in her life. Of course Mother effectively managed that. As if Tori didn't fully understand what was expected of her.
Excerpted from He's All That by Debbi Rawlins Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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