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A Husband Of Her Own
By Brenda Novak
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You want to what?" Rebecca Wells pulled away from where she'd been leaning on her kitchen counter and clutched the telephone tightly, hoping she'd heard wrong the first time. She was supposed to be at work by nine, in twenty minutes, but this call took precedence over everything else.
"I think we should wait until the end of January," her fiancé, Buddy, responded. He sounded tentative, as though he feared she might not accept this news well. Probably because she'd lost her temper last time. He'd postponed the wedding twice already.
"The end of January is almost four months away, Buddy," she said, and was immediately proud of how calmly she'd spoken. Too bad Delaney had gotten married and wasn't living with her anymore. Rebecca felt certain her best friend would have applauded her efforts.
"That's not so long, babe. What're another few months? It won't change anything in the long run, right?"
Change anything! It would change everything. Rebecca had been counting the days until she could leave her small hometown behind.
She wanted to move to Nebraska with Buddy so Mrs. Whipple couldn't pass her on the street, shake her head and mumble, "Poor Mayor Wells. Who would've thought he'd get stuck with such a daughter?" So Mrs. Reese couldn't frown disapprovingly as she sat in the beauty shop across from where Rebecca was working, recounting the occasion when Rebecca had purposely dyed her hair blue. So Delaney's Aunt Millie couldn't constantly remind her of the day she ran away with Johnny Red, the leader of a biker gang that had once passed through town.
On second thought, being reminded of Johnny probably wouldn't have bothered Rebecca. He'd been dangerous and reckless and incredibly sexy. Except he'd sent her packing in only three days - that was the humiliating part. Everyone in town had assumed even a man like Johnny Red couldn't tame Rebecca Wells. They didn't realize that next to Johnny, she looked like a saint.
Stretching her neck to relieve some of the tension, she took a deep breath. She needed to loosen up or she was going to blow this conversation. The last time she'd let Buddy feel the full force of her disappointment, he hadn't called for almost a week.
"Now I'm going to have to explain to the whole town that I'm not getting married for my birthday, and I'm going to have to say it's because your great-aunt can't make it until after Christmas?" she said.
A sense of accomplishment swept through Rebecca despite her dismay. She'd just managed another reasonable statement. She was doing amazingly well, considering her track record, but the strain was taking its toll. Just last week, she'd promised Delaney that she'd given up smoking for good. But a cigarette seemed almost imperative to her success here. If only she hadn't destroyed every pack in the house in the fervor of her good intentions.
"Are you saying that my great-aunt isn't enough of a reason to hold off?" he asked. "She's very important to me, Rebecca."
Rebecca had a few things to say about the relative importance of a great-aunt, but she bit them back. Opening the kitchen drawer that housed the Ziploc Baggies, aluminum foil and plastic wrap, she retrieved her nicotine patches and smoothed one on her arm. "They'll think you're getting cold feet," she pointed out.
"I'm not getting cold feet. We met only nine months ago. And we've seen each other in person ... what? A handful of times? I think most people understand that a long-distance relationship sometimes develops a little more slowly."
Except their relationship hadn't developed slowly. From almost the first moment they'd met on the Internet last January, they'd been talking about getting married. They'd grown close very quickly.
Unfortunately, Rebecca was afraid their relationship might be fading just as fast. And she couldn't figure out why. She knew she was a little temperamental, but it wasn't as though Buddy was likely to do any better. Only five feet six, he was at least fifty pounds overweight. He had blond hair and kind blue eyes - Rebecca loved both his hair and his eyes - but his face showed traces of years-old acne, and he had a big nose. He certainly wasn't someone who would normally have turned her head. Especially because she was five feet ten, one hundred thirty pounds, and nearly five years older.
It was the differences in their basic natures that she thought of as the truly positive factor in their relationship. Nothing riled Buddy. On a scale of one to ten, the intensity of his emotions fell somewhere below a one. He immediately and completely withdrew from any and all confrontation. Rebecca, on the other hand, had never backed away from a fight in her life. Until today. Stay calm was quickly becoming her silent mantra.
"I don't understand why you keep doing this," she said, still admirably rational. "Are you having second thoughts about us?"
"No ... not really."
Not really? She considered asking Buddy if she could call him back after she made a cigarette run. Only she was already too engrossed in the conversation to walk away from it now.
"I just ... I don't see any need to rush into anything," he was saying.
"We wouldn't be rushing," she responded. "We'd simply be going ahead with our plans. Why can't we show your aunt the video when she comes to town? I mean, weddings aren't all they're cracked up to be. It'll be more fun to get to know her in a relaxed atmosphere."
"It's not just my aunt."
"You said you weren't having second thoughts about us. At least, I think that's what you said. You said 'not really.' I don't know what I'm supposed to make of that. I guess it means you could be having second thoughts, or you could be having some second thoughts or -"
"You're putting words in my mouth," he said. "I'm thinking about the advantages, that's all. We'd have more money if we waited, and I'll have saved up a few more days' vacation time."
"What about me?" Rebecca slapped a nicotine patch on her other arm. "I've already given my notice at Hair And Now, and Erma has a new girl I'm supposed to train starting in a few weeks. There won't be enough business for her if I keep my current clients. Besides, the lease is up on my house and -"
"Has anyone else come forward to rent it? Maybe you could talk your landlord into letting you stay another few months."
Wasn't he listening? She didn't want to stay any longer. She didn't want to see the doubt in her father's eyes when she told him the wedding had been postponed a third time.
And she sure as heck didn't want to share such news with her three perfect sisters, all of whom had husbands and families of their own. They'd paved the road before her with such high expectations she'd never measure up. And everyone down at the Honky Tonk, the redneck bar that served as the center of Dundee's weekend entertainment, was already placing bets on whether there'd really be a wedding. She couldn't have the whole town laughing at her. Not again.
"The invitations are at the printers," she said. She could feel the reassuring adhesive of both nicotine patches clinging to her skin but somehow it wasn't the same as a smoke.
"You could probably catch them if you called right away," he replied.
"Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we should just forget about the wedding and elope."
His voice had definitely gone a bit high, but Rebecca barreled on. "Yeah. Let's fly to Vegas and do it. Forget the cake and the flowers and the food. Forget the guests!"
"My mother would kill me."
"Why? My parents are the ones who've already spent a lot of money." Her parents had been so excited that she was finally getting married, they'd promised to give her the same kind of wedding they'd provided for her sisters, even though she was thirty-one. The vein in her father's forehead had momentarily appeared when she mentioned the cost of her dress, but her mother had quickly quelled whatever he was about to say with one of her magical warning glances. He'd nodded vacantly and walked away, and they hadn't discussed the expense of the wedding since.
"See?" Buddy said. "We can't elope. Your parents would be furious."
Excerpted from A Husband Of Her Own by Brenda Novak Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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