Read an Excerpt
By Kate Welsh
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe couldn't believe he was center stage at a wedding. Cole Taggert hated weddings. He hated commitment. Thankfully it wasn't his - wedding or commitment.
He might be thankful, but he wasn't happy. He hoped the smile he'd been practicing for days hid his feelings well. He'd known he'd feel this way, but one of Amelia's there'll-be-a-price-to-pay glares had him accepting as graciously as he could when his father asked him to be his best man at their wedding.
Now, he watched that same sweet woman, Amelia Howard - soon to be Mrs. Ross Taggert, mistress of Laurel Glen and his stepmother - glide into Laurel House's sunroom adorned in silky white that the November sunlight made look like whipped cream. She looked every bit as lovely and feminine as she was. But he'd seen her inner strength. She was the embodiment of a steel magnolia.
It wasn't that Cole wasn't happy for them. Amelia was a wonderful, compassionate woman who deserved a man like his father. And his father deserved a little happiness after years spent alone living with undeserved guilt over his first wife's death.
Cole knew his problem. He was jealous. Because though he hated thoughts of marriage and commitment, he also longed for the security and companionship he knew they could bring. Hissister was married to and gloriously happy with his best friend, Jeff Carrington. And his father was so happy it hurt to look at his perpetual grin.
Cole heard a sniffle and glanced at his aunt Meg. Well, she was alone, but at least she had memories of love. One so special that in thirty years she hadn't found someone to replace her fallen soldier.
And that, in a nutshell, was his problem. Try though he had, Cole just couldn't give his love to any of the women he'd been involved with. He'd wanted to. He really had tried. But in the end he had broken their hearts because, no matter what, he couldn't commit his. Sometimes he wondered if he even had one.
Cole watched Amelia take her place next to his father. His sister, Hope, stepped up to take the bride's small, elegant bouquet. Now there were two women deserving of love. As a familiar thought raced through his mind, Cole felt his stomach flip then harden with the paralyzing fear that held him imprisoned. He'd always joked that if he ever met a woman like his sister, he'd run the other way.
The truth he'd never admitted to himself until that moment was that he wouldn't run out of aversion. He'd flee in fear. Because that was the kind of woman he could fall in love with. The kind he now avoided at all costs. The only kind who could reach his heart.
The only kind who could break it.
Cole squinted against the glare of the afternoon sun bouncing off the March snow blanketing the fields. Just ahead, at the top of the next rise, sat the boxy shape of a horse trailer pulled to the side of the road. He wondered if it was a neighbor or some guy bringing his horse to Laurel Glen.
When he got within thirty yards of the vehicles, Cole decided it had to be one of the older residents on the other side of the road who were barely holding onto their land in the face of the county's rising taxes. No one who owned this beat-to-death blue and rust trailer would be able to afford Laurel Glen's boarding fees, that was for sure.
He considered the near freezing temperature and the windchill factor of this mid-March day and pulled over behind the trailer. He was only three miles from Laurel Glen, the horse farm that had been in his family since the land grant days at Pennsylvania's inception. He couldn't help with car trouble, but he could change a tire or give some old guy a lift.
"I'd really better stop," Cole told his female companion. "He may need help."
She chuckled, a light, sexy sound that had no effect on him at all. Elizabeth Boyer was a beautiful woman, but she was his friend, and that's all she'd ever be. They were in agreement on that. He knew her from when she was the ugly duckling in a beautiful family, and she'd known him during what his family now kindly called his rebellious period. Neither was any good at relationships, so they kept each other company and held loneliness at bay.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"You. I don't think I'll ever get used to this new community-conscious Cole Taggert. But then, you always were a softhearted pushover."
He winced, then laughed as he opened the door and stepped to the ground. "Hey," he said, grinning. "Don't spread it around, okay? You'll ruin my hardearned bad-boy image."
Cole left Elizabeth laughing and rounded the back of the trailer. With no small amount of confusion, he took note of the championship lines of the magnificent palomino mare moving restively inside. The decaying trailer and the quality of the animal didn't jibe. And the guy's once-red pickup was in even worse shape than the trailer!
Excerpted from Mountain Laurel by Kate Welsh 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.