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By Lenora Worth
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was just past dawn and the cathedral was quiet and empty.
Lacey Dorsette York sat in the back, enjoying the peace and solitude of the famous St. Louis Cathedral that had been at the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans for centuries. She liked to come into the cathedral early, just before the morning mass, before the tourists. She liked being alone in prayer.
But this morning even the sanctuary of this old, beautiful cathedral couldn't bring Lacey any peace.
This morning she was finding it hard to pray. Lacey glanced around, her eyes scanning the colorful murals and frescoes. Painted angels in hues of pink and blue stared down at her with all-seeing eyes. She was alone with the angels. Alone here in this retreat, with depictions of Christ all around - offering to soothe her.
And she needed soothing. She needed to feel close to God this morning.
She'd come to New Orleans to buy some estate pieces for her shop, The Antique Garden, and to refurbish some of the damaged furnishings her beloved home, Bayou le Jardin, had lost during a flood in the spring.
And maybe she'd come here to get away. Away from the loneliness that seemed to be surrounding her on all sides these days. Her sister, Lorna, now happily married, was going to have a babyearly next year. And her brother, Lucas, had just married the woman of his dreams a couple of weeks ago. It had been an eventful summer.
Except for Lacey. She was all alone. Lacey closed her eyes, tried to form the words to ask God to keep her family safe. Lorna and Mick were in Mississippi visiting some of Mick's long-lost relatives. Lucas and Willa were still in Europe on their honeymoon. And Aunt Hilda had taken a couple of weeks of much-needed rest to visit her friend Cindy up in Shreveport before the two women headed out on an Alaskan cruise.
They'd all had some place to go, something exciting to do, now that the weather was cooler and fall was setting in. So Lacey had volunteered to stay and watch over the badly needed renovations of the bed-and-breakfast antebellum house that provided both their home and their livelihood. While the house was shut down for some landscaping and repair work, Lacey had taken time to get some work done here in the city.
But she wanted to be back in the gardens. She always missed Bayou le Jardin when she traveled. Especially when she came here to New Orleans, only an hour away. New Orleans reminded her of Neil and what they had shared together. New Orleans reminded her of lost romance and lost dreams. Maybe that was why she'd wound up here in the old church, before she'd even had her first cup of coffee and some beignets at the Café du Monde. She knew all about lost romance and lost dreams. But her faith had always sustained her. Lacey figured it would get her through this rough spot now, if she'd just hang on and look to God for her answers.
Sitting in the silence, she thought she heard a door creaking open. The cathedral would be filling soon. She'd better hurry. She didn't like the crowds.
Lacey got up, thinking about the tiny grains of resentment she felt toward her brother and sister. They were both happy now. She should be happy for them. And truly, in her heart, she was.
And yet, it hurt. It hurt to know she'd once felt that kind of piercingly sweet happiness, too. Now she felt only a kind of numb pain that never went away. She remembered Lucas's words to her the day he married Willa.
"Maybe it's time for you to come out of hiding." Maybe.
Lacey again heard a noise up at the front of the big church. Thinking it was probably the priest, she looked up to find a tall, dark-haired man wearing a tuxedo hurrying - stumbling - down the aisle toward her. He had a strange look on his dark, exotic face. A look of hope mixed with pain. He was clutching one hand to his chest, underneath the expensive cut of his evening jacket.
His eyes, so rich and brown, were locked on Lacey. As he drew near, Lacey's breath caught in her throat. What if he had a gun or a knife? What if ...
"Help me," he said as he rushed toward her. He looked pale underneath his dark complexion. A fine sheen of sweat beaded just above his full lips.
She jumped up, afraid. But the man was blocking the aisle. Slowly, her mind on full alert, Lacey sank back down onto the pew. "What do you want?"
"Help me," he said again, his voice deep and ragged. He had a slight foreign accent that seemed more pronounced because of the soft plea.
Then he fell toward Lacey, his eyes never leaving her face. She caught him, her arms reaching up in reaction and protection as he settled across the pew, his upper body landing on her.
Lacey struggled with the weight of him. The warm, masculine-scented weight of him.
With a push and a groan, the man pulled his hand out of his coat front to grab her arm. Shocked, Lacey looked down at his tanned hand, then let out a gasp.
He was bleeding. "Help me, please," he said again, this time on a raw whisper of pain.
Lacey nodded, too numb to do much more. "I'll get the priest, or maybe the police - let me look outside."
"No!" He grabbed the white lace collar of her cream-colored blouse, smearing it with blood. "No priest. No police. Get me out of here."
She stared down at him. He was lying across her body, almost in her lap. And his hands still held to the lace at her collar as if it were a silken thread from a lifeline.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked, both afraid and curious. "How ... how can I get you out of here without being seen?"
He nodded toward one of the side doors leading to the square. "There. Take me through there. First, make sure no one is about -"
He grimaced with pain, then stared up at her again. To her amazement, he managed a beautiful, lopsided smile. "I guess God hasn't given up on me just yet. He has sent me an angel after all."
Then he fainted in her arms.
Excerpted from Lacey's Retreat by Lenora Worth Copyright © 2002 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.