Read an Excerpt
By Lyn Cote
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFriday evening, Connie Oberlin wasn't nervous about the party in her honor until she turned the last corner into her old Chicago neighborhood. Then she realized she had only been lying to herself. The sight of Annie and Troy's house brought back feelings better left untouched.
Late June sunshine glinted on her windshield as she edged her Volvo into a space along the narrow alley. Tonight would be fun. Tonight would be tense, but only to her. His face flickered in her unwilling mind. Yes, she would see him tonight. Caution whispered through her.
Her soul felt a guilty tug. Lord, I've guarded my heart and mind. I've done nothing that would dishonor You. Please lead me away from temptation as You have in the past. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, marshaling her resistance. You'd think I'd be over the last traces of my infatuation by now. But these words didn't ring true.
She slowly got out and then walked through the gate into the backyard. And was mobbed.
Her oldest and dearest friends, Annie and her sister Gracie and their cousin Patience, threw their arms around her and squealed - just as they had as girls. Dropping her purse and weekend bag, Connie laughed out loud and leaned into the hearty four-way hug, though she towered ahead taller than the petite, brunette sisters. Willowy, blond Patience and she were the tall ones.
Standing by the grill, Annie's father waved and shouted, "Hey, Connie! Big-time lawyer!" Patience's brand-new husband, tall and dark and handsome, stood beside him.
Annie and Troy's five-year-old twin sons leaped from their backyard swing and pelted toward Connie. They hugged her around her knees and shouted, "Aunt Connie's here! What'd you bring us?"
Annie pried the blond duo off Connie and scolded them. "You better be glad your father isn't home on time. He hates it when you two beg."
Connie ruffled the twins' bowl-cut bangs. Her heart riotous, she scanned the gaily decorated backyard. Clusters of colorful Mylar balloons, tethered to the fence and back porch, bounced on the summer breezes. Picnic tables were decked out in white tablecloths. Bowls of food brought by the neighbors completely covered one table. She watched as Patience went to stand beside her husband who put a loving arm around her. Gracie's husband stood by his wife, too. She was so happy for Patience and Gracie. Why did all this make her want to cry?
In the warmth of late-afternoon sun, she scooped her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail and excused herself. She'd thought ahead and had brought a change of clothes with her. She walked into the white frame two-flat that she'd lived next to as a child and which had been a second home to her all her life. After remarrying recently, Gracie's father had moved away to his wife's home. So Gracie and her husband lived in the downstairs flat now, while Annie and Troy still lived upstairs with the twins.
Inside the downstairs bathroom, Connie changed out of her three-piece suit into cooler and casual cropped jeans and an off-white cotton top. She stared at her somber reflection in the mirror, trying to get into a party mood, to prepare herself to smile at him and show no other reaction than friendship. Lord, I want that to be true. Of their own accord, her eyes drifted to the alley again, waiting to see Troy walk through the gate.
She strolled back outside, smiling with difficulty. But old neighbors distracted her from her nervousness, crowding around her, hugging her, kissing her cheek. "Congratulations on passing the bar" was repeated over and over as well as "We knew you could do it." Connie returned the hugs and kisses and forced herself to ask about children and grandchildren.
Finally, Troy's uncle arrived. Uncle Lou, Troy's mother's brother, owned the large construction company Troy worked for. Lou thumped Connie on the back with his meaty paw and beamed his pleasure. Then he turned and boomed across the crowded yard to Annie, "Where's that husband of yours? I told him to leave the job in Taperville early tonight and get home here."
"Yeah, tell him to get here fast," Annie's father agreed. "The burgers are almost done!"
"I'll call his cell phone again." Annie reached into her jean pocket and pulled out her own phone.
As the twins dragged Connie over to the swing set so she could push them high, she watched Annie grimace as she hung up. Obviously she'd gotten no answer. Connie propelled the twins' swings in turn, listening to their shouts of pleasure. And wondered what was keeping Troy.
More neighbors arrived. Annie's dad started scooping burgers off the grill onto waiting buns. The neighbor ladies uncovered bowls and the buffet began. Connie and everyone else watched for Troy. Every few minutes, Annie took out her cell phone, people lowered their voices, murmuring, "What's keeping him? This isn't like Troy." In equal measures, Connie felt relief at not having to face him and concern for his safety and ... self-reproach larger than both.
Finally, Connie led the twins over to the food and helped them fill their plates. "Where's Daddy?" one asked her.
"Don't worry, your daddy will be here soon," she murmured.
Excerpted from Loving Constance by Lyn Cote Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.