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Love At Last
By Irene Brand
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs Lorene Harvey walked across the campus of Woodston College, she was tempted to turn tail and run. The redbrick buildings, the shaded avenues and the memorial fountain, cascading colorful rainbows in the sweltering summer heat, brought unwelcome thoughts - memories of two years of her life she'd tried in vain to forget.
She hadn't wanted to come to this Kentucky town in the first place, and the sudden surge of best-forgotten incidents confirmed her opinion that coming to Woodston had been a mistake. Would she ever put the past behind her? Why couldn't she blot out recollections of twenty years ago when she'd made the biggest error of her life? A mistake that had spawned an empty vacuum where her heart ought to be.
But Lorene hadn't established a successful media-relations business by surrendering to her mistakes. She paused before the splashing fountain, determined to suppress her regrets of days gone by. After a few minutes she took a deep breath, forced a pleasant smile and walked into the administration building.
Following the signs to room 202, she tapped lightly on the open door and entered. The receptionist, who looked to be in her sixties, smiled and said pleasantly, "May I help you?"
"I want to see the vice chair of Woodston's bicentennial commission. I understand this is his office."
The secretary's eyes expressed caution. "He might not have time to see you. May I have your name?"
Lorene's smile remained, but her jaw tightened and her gray-green eyes flashed like summer lightning, and in a harsh, uncompromising voice that didn't sound like her usual velvet tones, she said, "I'm Lorene Harvey of Tri-State Public Relations Agency in Pittsburgh. I've been in Woodston for two hours trying to find someone to talk to me about the historical celebration our firm is supposed to promote. Mr. Kincaid, chairman of the commission, isn't available, and I was sent here."
Lorene was aware that a door had opened behind her, but without turning she said, "If everybody in this town is too busy to talk to me, our firm is too busy to represent Woodston." Turning toward the door, she added, "We'll return the retainer Mr. Kincaid sent us."
"I - I'm sorry," the receptionist stammered. Her face flushed, and her eyes darted to a point over Lorene's shoulder.
"I'll talk to you, Lorene." The voice jolted Lorene out of her anger, and she whirled to stare at the man standing in the doorway of the adjoining office. She took a sharp breath and her pulse raced.
As if Lorene's surprise appearance hadn't dealt his vulnerability a near-fatal blow, Perry Saunders continued, "You'll have to forgive Alma - she's overprotective of me. Come in." He motioned toward his office.
Lorene's yearning eyes swept his beautifully proportioned body from the neatly shod feet to his extraordinary eyes, as dark as black onyx, to the thick silvery-gray hair that fell loosely over his forehead before it tapered neatly to the collar of his dark business suit. Stunned by this unexpected encounter, she was powerless to do anything except nod and move toward him. Tense fingers tightened on the handle of her briefcase as she walked on trembling legs into a comfortable room with high ceilings, long, heavily draped windows and modern oak office furnishings.
Perry closed the door and, thinking her legs might not support her much longer, Lorene dropped quickly to a couch at the left of the desk. She looked upward and slowly studied each feature of the face that, except in her dreams, she hadn't seen for twenty years. Perry had a long, lean face, high cheekbones and a straight, prominent nose. Except for the gray hair, she couldn't see that he'd aged at all. The last time she'd seen Perry, his hair had been jet-black.
"I've always wondered what you'd look like with gray hair," she said evenly, proud of herself that the emotional shock of seeing him wasn't evident in her voice.
Perry's neat gray mustache framed a sensitive, well-shaped mouth that widened into a smile. Sitting beside Lorene, he took her hand, and his eyes hungrily scanned each of her features. Thick dark hair fell gracefully over shapely shoulders, and her eyes of gray and green shades glowed with wonder and surprise at meeting him again. Lorene was tall and well proportioned with a slender waist, no heavier than she'd been when she was twenty. She looked just as he remembered - generously curved lips, delicate bone structure, dainty nose and long black eyelashes that splayed over rosy skin. She wore black dress pants, a red blazer and black pumps rather than the jeans and sweatshirts she'd preferred when he'd known her.
The most profound difference was in her character. In her teens, Lorene had been insecure, possessing low self-esteem, mostly because she had a domineering father who wouldn't give her the freedom to think for herself. It was apparent that the years had brought an inner strength that hadn't lessened her determination or marred her delicate beauty.
Lorene squirmed under his intense scrutiny, and he said lightly, "No gray in your hair, I see."
"Thanks to my beautician," she admitted with a slight smile. Then surprise and disbelief overspread her face, and she cried out, "You're teaching in a Christian college! What happened to your engineering studies?"
"I finished my engineering degree, but I later went to seminary, received my doctorate in Bible studies ten years ago and came to teach in Woodston."
She wanted to ask why he'd changed his profession. Instead she said, "I'm sorry I lost my temper with your secretary, but I still intend to return the retainer the commission sent and be on my way."
Perry tightened his grip on her hand and said quickly, "When I've wondered for years where you were, do you think I'll let you walk out of my life again? Tell me what disturbed you this afternoon. Most people consider Woodston a friendly town."
"At Mr. Kincaid's bank I was passed from one employee to another until a secretary told me he wasn't available this afternoon and sent me here. She said that the vice chair of the commission was at this office. She didn't mention your name, and by that time I was too annoyed to ask."
"If you'd known I was the one you were to see, would you have come?"
Excerpted from Love At Last by Irene Brand Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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